Non-dairy cheese is nothing new. Vegans and lactose-intolerant folk have been figuring out the best way to make a faux grilled cheese sandwich or mock quesadilla for some time, and it was only a matter of time before someone — naturally, an L.A. someone — thought to create a vegan-cheese oasis in the form of an all-non-dairy cheese shop. Its name? Vromage.
While there are vegan restaurants (such as M.A.K.E. in Santa Monica) that serve non-dairy cheese on platters and top vegan tacos with almost-melty orange shreds, Youssef Fakhouri's Vromage stands alone in its all-dairy-free cheese business model.
Companies such as Treeline and Miyoko’s Kitchen offer their own vegan cheeses to allow for that vegan escapism; however, these brands live online only or in super markets. And while you can get the popular packets of Daiya shredded or sliced vegan cheese in just about any supermarket these days, nothing makes a vegan feel more like a non-vegan than entering a non-dairy cheese shop.
Once a meat-eating restaurateur in Santa Barbara specializing in Mediterranean and French cuisine, Fakhouri turned away from animal products when he moved to L.A.
“You start to feel bad for the animals,” Fakhouri says, noting the overwhelming number of vegetarians and vegans he befriended in the area. He began making non-dairy cheese when a friend of his asked for a better recipe than the ones available online. With each attempt, Fakhouri tweaked the recipe to refine it to his once cheese-eating palate.
“I wanted to make cheese the way Europeans make cheese,” he says. “That other [vegan cheese], that’s not cheese. It doesn’t even taste good.”
After a five-year period of trial and error, Fakhouri developed the recipes for the 17 non-dairy cheeses available in his Hollywood shop at Sunset and Laurel. Inside the simple shop, the cold case displays plates and containers of Fakhouri’s mock mozzarella, brie, cheddar, pepper-cheddar and “veganzola” — his most popular.
Fakhouri prides himself on his product. Unlike the roughly hourlong process that goes into most vegan cheeses (blending raw cashews, soy milk, yeast and miso paste, heating the concoction, shaping it and letting it settle in the fridge), Fakhouri’s cheeses incorporate more ingredients and more time. While he shies away from revealing his exact process and ingredient list, he boasts his exotic blend of nuts and seeds (Brazilian, sunflower, pumpkin seed, hemp seed and more) and his refusal to use miso paste or even soy milk in his cheeses.
Seven days must pass for Fakhouri’s fake cheese to ferment to his liking, which means his production fluctuates. Some days his display case may be without his asiago or hard cheddar, but his customers make whatever pilgrimage they must to snag some non-dairy basil mozzarella or Vromage blanc to take home.
As if a vegan cheese shop weren't "so totally L.A." enough, Vromage also offers gluten-free bread for its lunchtime sandwich options. That's right. Vromage has provided us with the most SoCal lunch order in town. All that's missing is a kale and chia seed smoothie.
While Fakhouri hopes to promote this healthier alternative to cheese, he does not claim that his so-called vromage tastes better than the real deal; he just thinks it tastes good.
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“The whole idea is not to imitate,” Fakhouri says. “It’s not about comparing. If it tastes good, it tastes good. You just have to give it a chance.”
Vromage, 7988 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; (917) 450-0855; vromage.com